A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments that surround the ankle joint are damaged, usually through overstretching. Although most instances of a sprained ankle are fairly mild, such as when your ankle rolls over while you’re running or playing football, they can be more severe, especially if the ligament ruptures.
What Causes A Sprained Ankle?Ankle sprains occur when the ankle is pushed out of normal alignment. Usually the foot rolls inwards and the ligaments around the outside of the ankle get stretched, leading to tears or other damage.
Some of the most common causes include:
- Walking or running over uneven ground, like rocky terrain or ground that shifts like loose soil or sand.
- Pivoting at an awkward angle when running and turning.
- Landing badly after a jump.
- A fall that causes your ankle to twist.
- Poor footwear. This can be either that the shoes don’t fit or they are inappropriate to the activity.
- Being unfit. If your ankles are weak or inflexible, you’re overweight, or just generally not used to physical activity then you will be more likely to be injured.
- Playing sports. Yes, being active is good for you, but the fact is that most sports, especially those that involve a lot of running, turning, and jumping, will put your ankle under a lot of strain and increase your chance of spraining your ankle.
Symptoms Of A Sprained AnkleDepending on how bad the sprain is your symptoms may consist of:
- Pain, particularly when trying to walk or put weight on the foot
- Reduced range of motion
- Ankle instability
- Tenderness around the ankle and foot
- A pop or crack when the injury occurred
Although the pain and swelling can be uncomfortable it’s important to understand that severe pain is not normal, and could indicate a fully ruptured ligament or even fractures to the ankle or foot bones. If self-care, like over-the-counter pain medication and icing the ankle, doesn’t reduce pain and swelling then you should see a doctor as the injury may need further investigation.
Types Of Sprained Ankle
Doctors categorise ankle sprains into three categories, based on the severity of the injury. The treatment and recovery time for the three grades are slightly different.
Grade 1 Sprained Ankle
This is the mildest form of injury, and the one most of us have probably experienced when playing sport. Here the ligaments have sustained some injury, and you may experience instability in the ankle for a while, but you can expect to recover within two to three weeks.
Typically recovery is about resting your ankle, and using pain killers and some cooling therapy to manage pain and swelling. However it’s important that you also keep active by walking and ensuring that the ankle doesn’t become stiff or weak from lack of activity.
The NHS has some simple ankle stretching and strengthening exercises you can carry out after pain and swelling has subsided.
Grade 2 Sprained Ankle
This type of injury is more severe and the ligament has been damaged and overstretched to the point where walking can be very painful. Recovery from this level of ankle sprain can be up to six weeks. You will likely require a rehabilitation programme from a doctor or physiotherapist to ensure that you regain strength and mobility in the ankle.
Grade 3 Sprained Ankle
The most severe type of sprained ankle involves a complete rupture of the ligaments. In extreme cases you may even have a fracture in one of your ankle bones. In these cases rehab can take from six to 12 weeks and should be guided by a qualified medical professional.
Treatment For A Sprained Ankle
Bad cases of ankle sprains need to be treated with advice from a doctor or physiotherapist, as the aim will be to ensure that the ankle doesn’t lose its strength or flexibility during the lengthy recovery process.
For milder cases, most sprained ankles respond well to self-care, which should follow the established RICE method as outlined by the NHS:
- Rest. Stop activity and try not to put weight on the ankle.
- Ice. Cooling therapy will reduce pain and swelling. Icing has to be done for no longer than 20 minutes at a time to ensure you don’t suffer ice burn. However one of our cooling compression bandages can be applied for hours with no risk of damaging your skin or nerves.
- Compression. A bandage will support your ankle, and our cooling bandages function as a compression bandage while providing better cooling than ice.
- Elevation. Keep the ankle raised up while lying down to promote swelling reduction.
Once you can put weight on the ankle without pain and move it through its range of motion it is important that you then resume moderate activity, including stretching and strengthening exercises, to ensure your ankle doesn’t become stiff or weak.